Michelle Harries joined IABC in the early 2000s to network. She was new to Calgary and didn’t have any local contacts to help her job search. IABC was her introduction to Public Relations (PR) in Calgary.
An experienced communicator with a long history of working across industries and cultures, Michelle has previously held the roles of director, senior manager and instructor at the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), Petro Canada, Husky Energy, SAIT, and Mount Royal University. She is currently the Marketing & Communication Department Head at Surerus Murphy Joint Venture.
When asked, it’s a bit difficult for Michelle to narrow down her greatest professional accomplishment.
“It has been a long career and some small accomplishments have had significant impacts but were easy to push across the finish line. Likewise, some big accomplishments have been under leaders I haven’t enjoyed working with – so it dilutes the sense of reward,” she says. “Having worked a lot in media and crisis roles, some successes are also in the stories that never saw the light of day due to good behind-the-scenes PR management that no one else will know.”
Something Michelle is grateful for is that many former teammates and students she has led or taught have kept in touch with her. “I am honoured that they continue to reach out – it brings me great pleasure,” she says.
Good or Bad, You Can Learn from Leadership
Michelle believes that learning from bad leaders and situations is as important as learning from good leaders and situations. She’s learned more from the people that she did not admonish than the people she does.
“If someone said or did something that didn’t sit right with me, I tried never to act or be that way with the people I encountered,” she says. “In truth, these negative situations have been my biggest teacher”.
Notwithstanding, there are a few bosses whom she has felt lucky to have including her current boss and her boss at SAIT.
Michelle received the best piece of advice from her politician/boss when she was working in the U.S. (and within a significantly more senior role than her experience warranted). Her boss assured her to “Be honest. Be accountable. Listen first. Trust your gut.”
Another piece of advice she received from a former mentor, who said “Be your own mentor”, meaning ‘Be hyper-aware of how the senior layers above your position engage.’
To move up, leaders above you must see you in a higher-level role.
Throughout her career, Michelle has experienced several challenges. Having lived and worked in different countries where she didn’t know anyone she carved her own path.
“I never doubted myself, and trusted my own ability to stand back up and tackle the world again, ” she says.
As a young mom, she worked in a demanding role 60 hours a week. “I had a hard time remembering who I was, I became my job – and I was too tired to know the difference. When that job ended poorly, I took it personally. Today, with the benefit of experience, rest and confidence, I would never give my identity to any entity again,” she explains.
Michelle made her biggest professional mistake when she stayed in a job that paid well, but did not enjoy.
“I learned it doesn’t feel good to sell my soul, and money doesn’t buy career enjoyment or success. It feels better to work in a place where I am valued, and I can get behind the direction and leadership of the company I work for,” she states.
For someone new to Canada, Michelle advises to network like crazy.
“Meet and connect with as many people as you can. Take people out for coffee (you buy) and don’t ask them for a job (what they can do for you) but ask them about them (listen to their story) and find a connection.”
She also advises those new to the communications industry to improve their writing skills. “It is hard to be a good communicator if one isn’t a good writer. Writing well is key.”
Michelle recommends the book Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.
Did you know? Michelle has spent close to a decade living, working and travelling in Asia and Europe before settling in Canada.